Understanding and leveraging the FastPass+ system at Disney World is one of the most important steps to truly having a fantastic vacation. Along with planning and arriving early, making the most of fastpasses can nearly double the value you get for your money and your enjoyment of the parks as a whole.
First of all, let's start off by discussing how the system works.
At its core, the FastPass+ system is essentially a ride reservation system. Guests make reservations either within the My Disney Experience app or on the My Disney Experience section of the Disney World website for a return time slot where they can “skip the line”. Each reservation is for one attraction and a return window (generally 1 hr long). You are limited to three advanced reservations for each day in the park. Plus, the FastPass+ system requires that all three advanced reservations be in the same park and will not allow you to book two fastpasses that overlap with each other.
As this can be confusing to newcomers, let's look at an example. Consider a morning in Magic Kingdom; below is an example of what your FastPass+ selections might look like.
Peter Pan’s Flight: 9:15am to 10:15am
Space Mountain: 10:20am to 11:20am
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: 11:45am to 12:45pm
As you can see, each reservation is for one hour and for a different ride in Magic Kingdom. They also do not overlap. All parks other than Magic Kingdom also have restrictions on how many top tier attractions for which you can get a FastPass+. Make sure to review this prior to making your reservations.
One of the most common confusions regarding the system is the cost. The FastPass+ service is provided to all visitors of a Walt Disney World theme park as part of their ticket. Meaning that there is no need to add on a special package or pay more for the right to use this system. However, since everyone has access it also means that it really doesn’t give you much of an advantage, unless you can really optimize your selections and times (see below).
The FastPass+ system opens for reservations at 7am (Eastern Time) 60 days prior to arrival for guests staying at a Disney resort property and 30 days for all others. And, you can make reservations for your entire length of stay at this time. So if you are taking a 7 day trip, you will be able to make reservations for all seven days 60 (or 30) days prior to the FIRST day of your trip. You must have purchased and then “linked” park tickets to your My Disney Experience account prior to making these reservations.
In addition to linking your tickets, you can link the accounts of everyone in your traveling party on My Disney Experience. This will allow you to book the same passes for everyone in your party when making reservations. Click their names when in the system and you will make the reservation for them as well. Just make sure they also have tickets for their stay prior to booking.
Once completed you will have three reservations for each day of your trip for each person in your party. In order to use them, all you have to do is tap your Magic Band on the reader in front of the ride and you’re all set! After using your third pass of the day, you can then use the app (or a kiosk in the park) to reserve an additional FastPass+ for the same day. There are no restrictions on this pass. It can be for any ride, in any park as long you can find availability. There is no limit to how many additional fastpasses you can get in a day, the only limit is that you can only have one at a time.
Now that you know how it works, let’s talk about how to optimize your reservations!
Due to the nature of the system it is imperative to start booking your fastpasses as soon as booking opens. This means that you should start making reservations at exactly 7am eastern time as some of the more popular attractions will be out of morning (or early afternoon) passes within the first 30 minutes. Even within 10 minutes, we have seen the earliest Avatar: Flight of Passage passes at 2pm.
You will also need to book quickly, as every minute counts. This means that planning is essential. Reconfirm your day-by-day itinerary with your traveling party a few days before. Then, select your top 3 FastPass+ targets for each day, with one alternate.
When booking, target getting your start times for all three fastpasses before noon. This will allow you ample opportunity to grab a fourth (and then fifth and hopefully sixth) FastPass+ before everyone else. On a normal day this means that you should shoot to secure your first FastPass+ starting between 9 and 9:15, your second between 10 and 10:30 and the third between 11:15 and 11:45. Avoid the temptation to grab that Slinky Dog Dash FastPass+ for 10:50 and instead grab the one at 11:15 (for example). You can then select two others before it and be ready to select your fourth FastPass+ as soon as you tap into Slinky Dog a little after 11am!
We have noticed that most people will start booking fastpasses with the first day and then work chronologically through their trip. However, skipping around between days when booking will enable you to snag the most difficult to obtain fastpasses first. Magic Kingdom is actually the easier of the parks to get early fastpasses for with so many popular attractions and no tiering. Animal Kingdom, with only Avatar: Flight of Passage and Na'vi River Journey in the top tier, is a great place to start. Flight of Passage is clearly the more popular ride and therefore is the first choice for most guests. EPCOT and Hollywood Studios both have three top tier attractions. However, all three attractions are pretty popular, evening out guests selections.
Finally, don’t do it alone! Since anyone in your traveling party (or anyone you have linked accounts with within the My Disney Experience Portal) can book fastpasses for the entire group, assign each adult a few days and split up the work. This will allow you to get everything done quicker and beat the crowds to booking the later days of your trip. With two people booking, we recommend having one person start on the first day and another start on an Animal Kingdom day and then work on from there. You can also sign up for our Disney World Expedition service where we will book the optimal fastpasses for you!
Now that you are set for your time in the park, let's talk about how to make the most of it!
The first step to using your passes wisely is actually deciding when in your 1 hour window to use them. Since mornings are the most optimal time to ride via the standby lines, don’t use your first FastPass+ until the very end of the window. You can actually use it up to 15 minutes after the end of your assigned slot, so don’t worry about pushing it till the end of your hour.
You can then use your second one at whatever time makes sense making sure that you can be ready to use your final FastPass+ 5 minutes before your time slot starts. As with the 15 minutes grace period that Disney automatically gives at the end of the time window, you can also use your FastPass+ up to 5 minutes before your window starts. By using it as early as possible you can then start to book your 4th FastPass+ for the day before many guests even get to the park.
When making additional FastPass+ selections (your 4th and beyond for the day), you should start looking as soon as everyone in your party has scanned their magic band. Generally, this will be while you are still in the FastPass+ queue for the reservation you just used. You do not have to wait to ride the ride.
As we mentioned above, this next FastPass+ can be in any park and on any ride with availability. But remember, many rides will have run out weeks before. We generally recommend taking a quick glance in your current park to see if anything might be available to jump on within the next hour or two. Be careful however, you don’t want to tie yourself to that park for too long in order to make time to get back to the hotel for some rest and pool time.
If nothing is available in your current park, then look over at the park you had planned to visit in the evening. Taking into account your plans for dinner, grab the first option that comes available that fits your schedule. Disney has designed the app to work really well for this. You can select the park and then a time slot and it will show you all the attractions with fastpasses available. If the time you requested is not available for a particular attraction, it will provide the closest slots available. So don’t worry about missing something based on the time slot you select. If there is even one slot available, it will show up!
In the three parks with a tiered system (AK, HS, EPCOT) the attractions in the top tier will always show up first if available. However, the remainder of the rides are listed in alphabetical order. So, if you are looking for Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom or for Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios, make sure to scroll all the way down.
Once you have selected your next FastPass+ you don’t have to stop looking. You can always keep checking for a better time slot or attraction. And, due to people changing their plans during the day, they definitely do pop up. Even for the rides that were fully booked 60 days out. We have snagged day-of passes for Avatar: Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest, Slinky Dog Dash, Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror, Soarin’, Frozen Ever After, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and many other favorites, all by just frequently refreshing the app and seeing what is available.
The best way we have found to refresh the app is by just selecting a different time. For example, you can just swap back and forth between 5:00 and 5:30 to see what pops up. A word of warning however, while checking more frequently will definitely give you a better chance of finding that golden ticket, make sure to balance that with enjoying your afternoon. Use your time on the bus or waiting in line to refresh the app and take advantage of that pool time for rest.
As with everything else at Disney if you make a mistake or show up late, just ask a cast member or head over to guest services. We have seen them extend the windows additional time for guests (both before and after) and provide additional passes when necessary. They also have the ability to provide passes that you can use mostly wherever and whenever you want. They will give these out when rides break down or for other major issues. Moral of the story, It never hurts to ask.
So after nearly 2000 words on fastpasses, you totally understand, right!? Ok, we know this is really complicated. However, leveraging this system to your advantage is one of the best ways we have found to really maximize your Disney World adventure. And we would be happy to help you out more with the process. From a free quick 30 minute Q&A session, to our deluxe package where we will make the advanced reservations for you and talk you through decisions while on your trip, we can help!